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At a glance: Syrian Arab Republic

Immunization campaigns reach out to Syria’s vulnerable children

© UNICEF Syria/2006/ Noorani
A health worker immunizes an infant at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency health centre in the Jaramana camp for Palestinian refugees, near Damascus.

UNICEF’s yearly flagship report, 'The State of the World’s Children', launched 22 January 2008, makes a call to unite for child survival. Here is one in a series of related stories.

QARAHTA, Syria, 18 March 2008 – Barely 10 months old, Sundus has her mother Aida’s eyes: dark brown, with a hint of turquoise at their centres. Sitting on her mother’s lap, Sundus looks peaceful amidst the bustle of an immunization point in Qarahta, 20 km from the capital, Damascus.

“I’m very happy,” says Aida, smiling at her baby. “There are enough risks out there for me to worry about. My mind is put to rest because Sundus has received all the vaccinations she needs for now. She will be safe from dangerous diseases that immunization can so easily prevent.”

Each month, the Syrian Ministry of Health dispatches a specialized vaccination team to Qarahta. The team is part of a campaign which aims to ensure that every child under five has received the vaccinations they need to be protected from preventable diseases such as polio, tetanus, influenza and measles.

“We recently completed a polio campaign targeting areas where there was a high concentration of displaced Iraqi children,” says Head of the Child Health Unit in the governorate of rural Damascus, Dr. Jamile An-Naame. “Although Syria was declared polio-free in 1995, given the poor living conditions and overcrowding that so many of the Iraqi children suffer, we thought it best to take preventive measures.”

Support for immunization initiatives

UNICEF supports the Ministry’s of Health’s immunization initiatives in order to reduce health disparities across the country.

According to National Immunization Programme Manager and Ministry of Health Director of Primary Health Care Dr. Khaled El-Baradei, the use of mobile immunization teams and health centres has boosted immunization coverage by 95 per cent.

“Our commitment is total,” Dr. El-Baradei says. “Both quality and outreach are key to us. This year, we aim to vaccinate 550,000 children.”

An added benefit

One added benefit is that mobile immunization teams also inspire the community’s trust in primary health care services.

“They’re used to us now,” explains Aziza Ismail, a nurse supervising one of the immunization teams. “The families we reach out to have understood the importance of immunization.”

The teams raise awareness and encourage families to take advantage of the free access they have to health centres, for vaccinations as well as other services.

Eliminating health risks

“Our goal is to eliminate as many health risks as possible,” says UNICEF Syria's Child Survival and Development Specialist, Dr. Iman Bahnasi. “The situation as it stands today is good, but there continue to be high-risk areas, particularly in the countryside.”

In addition to supplying cold-chain equipment to preserve vaccines, UNICEF Syria has supported the Ministry of Health by assisting in the training of health personnel, producing communication materials to raise immunization awareness and building the technical capacity of specialists by supporting their participation in international workshops and conferences.

Says Operation Immunization Officer at the Rural Damascus Health Directorate Yoused Mukbel: “Our aim is to ensure that all children in Syria are protected, without discrimination.”



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